Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Bahn mi bowl

I was in the mood for a good bahn mi last night, but I sometimes get tired of buying baguettes because it's hard to eat all that bread before it gets hard (the perils of living in Montreal alone). So, I decided to make a bahn mi bowl, inspired by the dragon bowls at Aux Vivres. The bowl has wheat noodles, lettuce, baked tofu, pickled carrots and radishes, and a dressing made out of tofu marinade and veganaise whipped together. I already had the pickled veggies and baked tofu made, so this was super fast to put together.

The baked tofu is part of my ongoing efforts to figure out a recipe for Tofu Kan, an Ithaca specialty that I've been missing since moving here. I'm already starting to forget exactly what it tastes like so it's hard to say how dead on this iteration was flavor wise, but the texture is quite close and the flavor was delish.

In case there are any other frustrated Ithaca ex-pats out there, here's how I made it.

Soy sauce
Lime juice
Chopped ginger
Dash of liquid smoke
Garlic/cilantro bullion cube thing (it's rather oily, so I didn't add any other oil)
Enough hot water to dissolve the cube and cover the tofu slices

(Unfortunately I can't really tell you which of these ingredients are essential, and I definitely can't tell you the amounts. I'm more of a dump-stuff-in-and-taste-as-you-go kind of cook, which makes it hard to reproduce things sometimes).

Drain and press the tofu, and then marinate it for a few hours (I left mine overnight in the fridge this time). Take the slices out of the marinade and bake them on a cookie sheet at 350 F for about 40 minutes, flipping them once. They should start to shrink up and brown on the outside. You definitely don't want to bake them in the marinade, I've tried that before and the texture just doesn't come out right. Then, after taking them out of the oven put the slices back in the dish with the marinade to cool down. It finally dawned on me that Tofu Kan is sold packaged in some sort of marinade/liquid, and this seems to be the final trick to really getting the baked tofu to be nice and flavorful.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Still in process...

It's been a while since I've talked about this project, hasn't it? I think the last time I did any serious work on this thing was over a year ago, about the time that I was starting up this blog. When I last put it away I had around half of the quilt done, pretty much everything on the left side of the center line. Further progress on the quilt had slowed to a stop because I hadn't actually draw in the pattern for the other side of the quilt on my graph paper plan (it's not exactly a mirror image, so I really did need to draw it all out on the other side for my own sanity down the road). I've been having crafting afternoons with a friend of mine here in Montreal, and I thought that filling in the rest of the quilt road map would be a great lazy sunday afternoon activity.

After doing some work on the plan I was motivated to sew again, and as you can see I've made some pretty good progress on the upper part. I spread out the pieces I have so far in a bedroom that's mostly emptied out (as we're all preparing to move here) to get an idea of what it will look like overall.

First impressions: it's HUGE. And it's going to take me forever to quilt. This really is the project that never ends!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Could I bike up this?

My SO sent me a picture last night of this mountain pass, which is near to the hotel that we're staying at in the Italian Alps while on vacation this summer. He's thinking about biking up it (which I have no doubt he could), but crazily enough I'm thinking about biking up it, too.

If we started right at the base of the pass the trip wouldn't be all that long distance wise (about 25km), but of course since it's a mountain pass it is quite a bit up (1800m or so). That makes it substantially more climbing than anything I've tried to to before in one day, but maybe with the short distance and taking it slow I could spin my way up this thing.

One of the things that I love about biking is that I feel so thrilled every time I reach another small milestone that I've set for myself. I've never been an especially athletic person, and biking is one of the few activities that makes me feel proud of my physical abilities (as opposed to intellectual or whatnot). I already have a few new biking goals in mind for myself, one of which will be to try a metric century sometime this summer, which I'm pretty sure I could do as long as it was a fairly flat route. Should climbing this mountain pass be another? I'm pretty sure I'll hate myself halfway up the mountain for doing it, but I'm also pretty sure I'll feel amazing if I make it to the top.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Sorbetto top and a cheater FBA fitting method

Like many others on the internet, I was thrilled when Sarai and her team at Colette patterns released the free Sorbetto pattern a little while ago. The weather was finally warm in Montreal, the pattern looked quick and easy to sew, and it's easy on yardage so I could use up some of the one yard pieces I have in my stash. The finished product is very easy to wear (see how relaxed I look on my balcony up there?), but it did take some doing to get there.

The problems were entirely of my own making. Instead of doing a full bust adjustment, I cut a straight size 12 with the overly optimistic idea that it was just going to fit. Foolish, right? Every once in a while I do this, probably for a variety of reasons -- laziness, thinking that patterns drafted for a C cup might be just close enough, failure to think about what the pattern will look like on me and not the model, etc. In this case I think I saw the pattern being modeled by Sarai, and I thought to myself, "Her boobs look awesome in that top! Mine will look awesome too!" Of course, I'm forgetting here that I'm not Sarai (Shocking, right? She's an awesome pattern designer, I'm an awesome academic... it's easy to see how you could get us confused).

So, for those who are both full of bust and full of optimism and have cut yourself a size or two too large, here's a method for dealing with full bust fitting problems that I used to save this top. Keep in mind this is NOT a true FBA or a substitute for actual pattern alterations, this is more of a cheater method that can work on an already cut garment (I use this a lot on RTW clothes as well).

First, let's diagnose the problem:

On the left you see what the shirt looked like me on first fitting. This is a nice pattern to troubleshoot fitting problems because what you see after sewing up the side seams is pretty much what you're going to get -- the binding follows the raw edges of the top, so this is essentially what the shape will look like finished. As you can see, the straight size 12 on me is less than ideal everywhere other than the bust. The straps are towards the outer edges of my shoulders rather than being centered, I have a wrinkle at the neckline on my large boob side, I have a lot of gaping around the armhole (enough that it shows my bra from certain positions), and the fit overall is a little loose.

If you've ever wondered whether or not you need a FBA, the armhole is a great clue -- go try on one of your sleeveless ready-to-wear tops and see if you have a big wrinkle or gap there. It looks like the fabric wants to form a dart at the armhole, an indication that you need more shaping. This problem now drives me crazy on RTW tops, but before I started sewing I honestly barely noticed it. Having my bra peeking out at the armholes was just a fact of life, so I made sure to always have nice bras on. No more!

The main problem here is that the armholes and neckline are too large and don't have enough shaping, so we're going to solve that problem with some creative gathering. I started with the neckline because it's easier to fix -- you have a longer distance here and less gathering needed to make it fit. Plus, if you've followed the pattern instructions you already have your staystitching there that you can use for shaping. Just take one of the ends of the threads, and use it to gather the neckline very slightly until it lays nicely against your body. Smooth out the gathers as you go so that they are as evenly distributed as possible. You can see here that the shirt looks better already after I gathered the neckline -- it sits better on my shoulders, and I no longer have that neckline wrinkle (the gathering will create wrinkles as well, but these should be small enough that you can press them out in the end). I also took the shirt in by the side seams, leaving the hem at a size 12, tapering in to an 8 at the waist and back out to a 10 at the armholes.

For the armholes, you'll need to add a line of stitching to use for gathering. I bump the tension on my machine down and put the stitch length up to 4.0 or so to give nice, loopy stitches that are easy to gather with. To keep the gathering in place, I tie off one end of the row of gathering stitches so that it's anchored and doesn't move while you're pulling the other end.

You can see above here that I have a row of stitches just inside the seam line, and where it ends at the side seam I've tied it off. The top is open and ready to gather. Slip the shirt on, get in front of the mirror, and start pulling on one of those top threads until the armhole begins to flatten against your body.

On the left you can see me awkwardly trying to show you how to fit the shirt by pulling on the loose threads. It may be quite puckered, and you may have to find a happy medium between a fitted armhole and a wrinkled blouse. Remember, this is the cheater method so it's not going to get you to fit nirvana if you have lot of bust to deal with.

On the right you can see the difference between the two armholes. See how the one I've adjusted is sitting closer to the body, while the unadjusted one still pops away? When you get something that you're happy with, tie together the threads at the top. This keeps the armhole from loosening back up as you take the shirt off and handle it. You can also adjust the gathers a little bit more to smooth them out and make them more even once you have the shirt off of your body.

After you've finished sewing on the binding, you're going to need to give it a good press to make the binding lay down nicely and to try to smooth out any wrinkles caused by the gathering. If you have a forgiving fabric they might mush out entirely, and if you have a busy print they'll be less noticeable. You can see below I have a few puckers that I'll try to press out here.

Here's the finished product -- you can see now that my bra is totally covered at the sides, even with my arm raised in this rather unnatural position. The top still feels big through the shoulders, but that's just the way it's going to be since I cut the size 12. Hopefully this method will help some of you fix your gappy tank tops, but I hope even more that my impatience will be a cautionary tale. Fit first, or you'll be annoyed later!

Friday, June 3, 2011

The no-drama blouse

After my last project (a button down shirt that I have yet to photograph because it's been too hot here in Montreal to wear it recently), I wanted to make something that would involve absolutely NO fitting drama, just wear and go right from the pattern.

I decided to make a blouse from a dress in the April '11 Burda issue (dress 135A, in the plus size section -- this is one of those cases where I'm lucky to be a size 44 in Burda patterns because it often means I just fit into the high end of the normal and the low end of the plus patterns!). As a dress I thought this might end up a little shapeless overall, but I thought it might work as a blouse in a very drapey fabric. It's also perfect for a no-drama project fitting wise. It has raglan sleeves (therefore no fitting that the shoulders), lots of space in the bust and the waist, and opportunities for gathering the neckline a bit more if it's looking too wide. I used the purple rayon print from my trip to Japan, which was a tight squeeze out of only a yard of fabric but doable.

The construction was super easy; I didn't do anything fancy on the inside other than finishing off the seams with my faux-serger stitch on my Pffaf and I finished the arms and neckline with self fabric binding. I like the way that the binding gives the bottom of the sleeves just a little volume.

The neckline did turn out to be a bit wide on me, which is at least partially my fault for not staystitching it to keep it from stretching out during construction, but it probably at least partially because the pattern is drafted for someone who's wider across the shoulders than I am. I considered just easing the neckline into the binding to reduce the width all around, but I ended up just gathering it between the two raglan seams at the back. Reducing the width right there rather than all round seems to help it stay in place on the shoulders better (which it does pretty well, considering what a big neckline this is).

Silly things that I did here that I should know better than to do by now: The blouse ended up being a bit short; it's okay, but definitely could have used another two inches. I guess I just didn't plan well here and it wasn't until it was all cut and hemmed that I realized it was a little 80's cropped shirt looking. Since it's a blousy blouse I didn't want it to become long and tent like, but the blousiness also means that cutting it a bit short makes it feel quite short. I also cut the binding strips on the straight grain rather than the bias. I certainly know better than to do this, but I had a severe lack of fabric here and thought the fabric was drapey enough that I could get away with it. Obviously you can, but it's not ideal and the neckline doesn't lay as nicely as it could.

One major lesson to take away for the future here is that I need to stop buying one yard pieces of fabric as souveniers! I always think that I can squeeze a top out of a yard of a fun print, and then I always do end up *just* squeezing a top out. From now on I'll buy myself 1.5 yards minimum of "just for fun" fabrics.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

And the secret ingredient is...

I was having one of those indecisive moments at the grocery store last night where I just couldn't decide what I wanted to eat. All of the dinner ideas that I was coming up with were pretty dull, so I decided to go over to the produce section and pick something that looked tasty and build a dinner around that. I settled on a bunch of broccoli rabe, which I've never cooked before but seems like something that I should definitely like given my extreme love of broccoli. After googling it later on it seems that it's more closely related to turnips than broccoli, but it's all to the good since I like turnip greens, too.

Here's what I ended up making:

It's a pretty simple concoction just using what I had in the fridge and pantry (which is not a lot, since I've been doing a lot of traveling these days): onions, garlic, olive oil, chick peas and the broccoli rabe. There is a secret ingredient, though, and it's not broccoli rabe. It's poutine sauce! While I was thinking about what to put in here as far as seasoning I remembered that I had a leftover container of poutine sauce in the fridge from last night (St Hubert always gives you just a little bit too much sauce with the poutine, I think). So I dumped in the poutine sauce, some sriracha and a bit of lemon juice, and there you have it--broccoli rabe a la Montreal!